Tag Archive: Blake’s faith

Moravianism vs. the Church

A broad glance at William Blake’s work seems not to yield the notion that Blake was overly concerned with depicting the physical body or appearance of Christ. But the influence of the Moravian beliefs of his parents and of his childhood is nevertheless present in Blake’s productions.

Lamentation Over the Body of Christ by John Valentine Haidt

Blake is focused on humanizing divinity and on emphasizing the easy access humans have to God. This is why Christ is such a prevalent figure in Blake’s art: apart from his perceiving Christ as the ultimate artist, one of Blake’s main beliefs was in the access to God Christ provided to man. Thus “God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” Christ’s assumption of the physical human body is what rendered his crucifixion meaningful: only the death of a perfect human could bring about salvation. Christ’s wounds thus encapsulate the message of Christianity: the body of Christ, to Blake, is one of his faith’s most important symbols, for in his death Christ provided access for all humanity to a direct relationship with God.

Communication with the divine lies at the heart of Blake’s work. In this most basic belief Blake is more of a Protestant Christian rather than a Catholic, for he chooses to focus on the ramifications of Christ’s death instead of that death’s eternal reality. Blake’s art becomes the method by which he takes advantage of  the open channel of communication between mankind and God: he contends that creative expression allows for an infinite variety of ways to seek and find the divine. Of course, this was an explicit rejection of the contemporary Catholic doctrine that man could only reach God through certain sacraments or through a mediator. Blake’s rejection of the Church was thus rooted in and closely aligned to Moravian spiritual belief. Despite that sect’s (and Blake’s) reputation for radicalism, such notions about the body of Christ have endured and seem to be far more in line with modern, common beliefs about Christianity than the traditional Catholic doctrine that Blake abhorred.


CINO – Christian In Name Only?

I was struck by one of the questions recently posed in class discussion: “If ‘all religions are one,’ then why was Blake a Christian?” Blake’s short piece argues that all religions, because they each stem from the same “universal” Poetic Genius, “have one source.” If our religion depends only on our “Nation’s different reception of the Poetic Genius,” what is the point of abiding by a particular religion at all, or what advises against being a member of several religions?

I believe there are two primary reasons Blake gives for his adherence to Christianity. One, he believes man should abide by the particular faith of his countrymen. Blake’s prophecy and revolutionary ideas are largely, though not entirely, centered around England, and I believe he felt a special kinship to his home and its national faith, which was not only a religious but also a cultural and social experience. (Clearly England sensed Blake’s attachment to her, as seen by the inclusion of the incorrectly-interpreted “Jerusalem” in the royal wedding.) He ties faith to “nation” – indicating his belief that one should abide by, or at least that there is nothing wrong with following, the faith of one’s country. Two, he believes there is a unique feature of Christianity that makes it more attuned to the “Poetic Genius,” which he says is the source of any connection with God. At the end of “There is No Natural Religion,” Blake writes, “Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” I think this is a specific reference to Christianity and to its tenet that God became flesh in the figure of Jesus Christ, an idea that is specific to Christianity. Blake’s interpretation of Christ’s incarnation as man is that Christ is the ultimate poet or artist, for “the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius” (“All Religions Are One”). Christ’s Poetic Genius is God’s Poetic Genius, and thus his outward human image is not only derived from that internal spirit but also mirrors that of mortal man. Christ becomes the figure we can emulate and “become as he is,” for he has “become…as we are.” The products of His Poetic Genius are available to man. I believe it is this allure that kept Blake solidly moored in Christianity.